I normally stay away from jumping on the react-to-the-news bandwagon, but I just had to respond to this recent “branding” headline.

“Marissa Mayer Put in a Weekend’s Worth of Work Designing New Yahoo Logo”

I follow Yahoo not only because I use it every day for my personal email (I’ve had the same email address since I was 8 and just don’t feel like changing to Gmail) but also because I think Marissa Mayer is a case study-in-the-making for working moms. Don’t worry, I won’t touch the mom topics; too much to say and debate. When I read the inside scoop on how the new Yahoo logo was designed, I felt like my profession had just taken a hit. I’m surprised that branding specialists around the world aren’t using this news as a how-to-NOT rebrand.

What horrified me was not the actual new logo; I honestly don’t care about it either way. What got to me was the process they used – led by (and this is based on assumption from this article and other things I’ve read about Mrs. Mayer) a control freak CEO that spent a weekend with her team over-thinking it and playing around with shapes in Adobe Illustrator. She insinuated she had a hand in the redesign, as she is quoted as saying “I’m not a pro, but I know enough to be dangerous :)” Design-by-committee and let’s-press-buttons-and-see-what-type-of-cool-stuff-we-can-do is not the way to rebrand any company, big or small. (And then let’s figure out to explain it; a la “straight vs. curved lines.” Refer to the article above for the reference.)

It then occurred to me that a lot of nonprofits, especially ones that don’t have a marketing budget or money set aside to brand/rebrand themselves, may fall into these same traps.

Trap 1: “We have no money, so let’s ask someone who says they have design skills to come up with something.” (or worse yet, someone who just loves playing around with design programs!)

How to avoid trap 1: First of all, let’s take money out of the situation. In this article, the Nonprofit Hub suggests “don’t spend a huge amount of money on a logo.” While that is true, you shouldn’t be making decisions about your brand based on just money. It’s about getting your brand in the hands of someone who understands the role of a brand and can put concepts into a visual mark. Sure, you could crowd source your logo, but it would be done by people who can just make pretty swirls or put a nice modern touch on a basic shape. A rebrand needs to start with a strategic vision. Keep reading.

Trap 2: “Our logo must be the visual representation of exactly what we do.” For example, we serve hot meals to the homeless, so we need a logo that has a plate of food being handed from one set of hands to another.

How to avoid trap 2: Your logo is NOT your brand. It’s NOT a visual of your mission. Your logo is a symbol used to identify your company. Your “brand” is your personality; it’s how people feel about your company/product. Jacob Cass at Just Creative says it best here.

Apple doesn’t have a logo of a computer or an iPhone. Nike doesn’t have a logo of a shoe. The Red Cross doesn’t have a logo of a bandaid or a pint of blood. YMCA doesn’t have a logo of a child at a gym. You get my point? A logo should be designed to reflect your personality. This is why you shouldn’t crowd source, give the project to a rookie artist or bottom line, take this process lightly. If you don’t have enough money to hire branding professionals, contact creative sourcing agencies that can help you find freelancers to work on your project. I’d suggest a branding strategist and a creative director; or these could also be the role of one talented person.

Trap 3: The direction you give your branding team is: 1) This is our mission statement 2) Look at our website and 3) here’s a list of what we do.

How to avoid trap 3: I suggest you start by getting together all of your internal stakeholders. Maybe it’s your board, maybe it’s your senior team, maybe it’s your marketing department or maybe it’s your entire staff. Get their input on what they think is your brand is. Go through exercises including different groups of words – adjectives, verbs, nouns (things), impact, energy words. Here’s an example, which represents the tip of the iceberg:

  • Nonprofit: National Park Trust (no better example than using a client!)
  • Adjectives: Dedicated, Vital
  • Verbs: Preserve, Protect, Treasure, Experience, Educate
  • Nouns: Nature, Outdoors, Parks, Community
  • Impact: Treasure, Time
  • Energy: Play, Future, Celebrate, Enjoy

Then, write your own creative brief. Start with the objective. Put your words into a cohesive statement about the direction of your brand. Don’t include your ideas of what the logo should look like, unless you’re giving general direction. For example, don’t use an image of a tree, put emphasis on the word “Park”, etc.

Trap 4: Once you have a logo concepts, get everyone that you know (including your best friend and mother) to give you feedback. Then, let the final decision come down to a vote.

How to avoid trap 4: So…you probably can’t avoid either of these. I always get my husband’s opinion on major work decisions. (He is a designer, so I suppose he shouldn’t count.) And the leaders at your nonprofit probably want/need to weigh in. What you can do is lay the ground rules before you start the project. Get everyone to agree on your creative brief and then work with your branding team to present the best concepts; all of which you would be happy to have as your new visual identity.


When all is said and done, if you avoid these 4 traps you’ll be on the right path towards a new logo that best captures your brand.